Social hosting rule targets local parents

Published 10:00 am Wednesday, March 22, 2017

LaGRANGE – The Troup County Board of Commissioners passed an ordinance on Tuesday that will create stronger regulations and penalties for adults who knowingly allow underage drinking.

The commission passed the Social Hosting Ordinance at its regular work session which aims to combat underage drinking by imposing stricter penalties at a county level for adults who knowingly allow underage drinking, though the ordinance will not affect parents who wish to allow their own child to drink within their home.

“You can still be at home and have your own kids have alcohol if they are underage – that is allowable in state law – … so it does not change that, but if somebody has a gathering of three or more people, and there is someone who is not their child who is underage, and they provide them alcohol then that would be covered under this ordinance,” said County Manager Todd Tentler. “The first offense is a $200 fine. The second offense is a $500 fine. The third offense is a recommended $1,000 fine and a minimum of 100 hours of community service.”

The fines were set to comply with state laws, and while parts of the ordinance are covered under state law, the ordinance aims to make it easier for the sheriff’s office to take action against those knowingly providing alcohol underage drinkers.

“This would be just an extra tool for us to go in there and try to make a difference and make the county safer, and I think it would definitely benefit us in law enforcement to have this tool available,” said Sheriff James Woodruff. “… It’s for the safety of the kids. It’s for the safety of the young people in our community. It’s not to just go after and punish people, but it’s to make Troup County a safer place, and that’s what we are committed to doing.”

The sheriff pointed out that there are already civil penalties for allowing underage drinking, and state level penalties will still be applied as necessary. The most important parts of the ordinance according to those who advocated it are the ease on the burden of proof for the sheriff’s office and what they hope will result in decreased access of alcohol to youth as adults avoid the newly established fines.

“The most important the Social Hosting (Ordinance) is that it helps to decrease the access of alcohol by youth or by teenagers because the majority of them say they get it from home or from a friend’s home, and that is also where they consume it – at home or at a friend’s home,” said Executive Director Sheri Cody of Twin Cedars Youth and Family Services, who is part of the Troup County Prevention Coalition. “So, it is one more avenue to decrease access for underage drinking.”

The coalition, in partnership with Twin Cedars, was a major advocate of the ordinance as part of their fight to decrease drug and alcohol use among youth within the county, and they hope to continue to promote positive change with their education campaigns in the future.

“Troup County Prevention Coalition is (the recipient of) a drug-free communities grant through the federal government, and they have substance abuse prevention dollars set aside for communities to use in their community how they see fit to have community level change,” said Project Manager Shannon Lawson of the Troup County Prevention Coalition. “… We work to combat teen substance abuse in the areas of alcohol, marijuana and prescription drug abuse, and so this morning is not really a finale to – because we are going to continue the work – but it has brought a lot of work to a pinnacle point with the social host ordinance being passed.”

The coalition is entering its tenth year of service to the community, and the social hosting ordinance is one of the group’s biggest victories to date in the affect that it could potentially have on the community.

“Traditionally, prevention has been focused on the person and their behavior instead of looking at all the other things that affect underage drinking or drug use in general,” said Prevention Consultant Mandy Hill, of the Troup County Prevention Coalition. “The coalition actually uses environmental strategies which address community level change and address access on the community level versus just us trying to educate a child that drugs are bad and not to do them.”

The group described their method as being based on the public health model, and their program involves community education through billboards, poster campaigns and in school education that focuses on normalizing the perception of the fact that most students do not use drugs or alcohol.

“Switch that around to social hosting, and I think sometimes parents think it is a social norm in their mind that when their child gets to a certain age, ‘OK, as long as they are home, my home, then they are safe and can drink here,’” said Lawson. “There is a false sense of security in that thinking.”

The group teaches about the damage that alcohol can do to developing brains, and cautioned parents that giving permission for youth to drink at home could lead teens to believe that they are allowed to drink in other, less safe situations. They also made note of the important difference between parents making decisions for their children, and parents making decisions for their child’s peers.

“I think the most important part of the social hosting ordinance is that it is fine by state law for me to allow my child to drink in my home, but it is not okay for me to make the decision that it is okay for your child to drink in my home,” said Cody. “So, social hosting helps with that in terms of – as the community becomes educated about what this ordinance means, it will hopefully help some of the parents who think it is okay just to take up everybody’s keys and they can just all drink in the basement to let them know: It’s not okay for you to make a decision about somebody else’s child.”

The Troup County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to meet again on April 4 at 9 a.m. at 100 Ridley Ave.

Reach Alicia B. Hill at or at 706-884-7311, Ext. 2154.